Morgan’s Object of the Week
This poster is one of a series made in the 1960s by the Safety Branch of the National Coal Board (NCB). Its almost comical appearance demonstrates the shift from text-heavy rule books to lively messages presented in accessible formats. The Scottish South Area of the NCB published a calendar featuring similar images in 1969. It also shows the increased emphasis on safety in the mines after nationalisation.
In the 19th century, mining was one of the most dangerous professions, with unpleasant and perilous working conditions. Long hours underground with low ceilings, high temperatures, and no light caused terrible health issues. Sight problems, ‘bandy legs’, and respiratory diseases from breathing in coal dust were all common. In addition, miners risked injury and death on a daily basis from poisonous gases, explosions, and roof cave-ins. The worst mining disaster in Scotland occurred at the Blantyre Colliery in South Lanarkshire, where an explosion killed 207 men and boys in 1877. The youngest victim was just 11-years-old.
Protective legislation was introduced from the mid-1800s to improve conditions for miners. The first Coal Mines Act of 1842 prohibited women, girls, and boys under 10 from working underground, and successive statutes established safety measures. After nationalisation of the mining industry in 1946, the National Coal Board strived to improve health and safety and conditions, conducting occupational health research and implementing greater safety procedures. Many lives were saved. At the end of the 19th century, 1060 miners were killed in an average year, compared to 568 per year in the decade after nationalisation. There were 92 deaths in 1971, and by the time the mining industry was privatised in 1987, there were (only) two fatalities that year.
You can see more safety posters in the museum’s permanent exhibition, A Race Apart.